Steven Caldwell: “Sky’s the limit” for Toronto FC’s sensational rebuild


Barking out orders to a bunch of local youth players on a cold, wet and misty morning in the Glasgow suburbs last autumn, it was clear for all to see that Steven Caldwell’s leadership skills are second to none.

After spending his career as a central defensive stalwart with various Premier League teams in England, Caldwell oozes experience and composed confidence. His career has seen him represent Scotland, play in the UEFA Champions League and spend several seasons in England’s top-flight.

WATCH: Seattle vs. Toronto FC, 4:30 p.m. ET live on NBCSN and online

But now arguably his biggest challenge awaits, as the veteran Scottish defender captains Toronto FC. Caldwell, 33, arrived in Major League Soccer midway through the 2013 season and signed a permanent deal to stick around in what could be a breakout season.

Following a major cash injection from TFC’s owners Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) over the offseason, Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley arrived to much fanfare as Toronto’s much-anticipated 2014 season kicks off away to the Seattle Sounders on Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN, 4:30pm ET and online via Live Extra) with the rest of the league casting a watchful eye on Ryan Nelsen’s revolution on the banks of Lake Ontario.

Expectation levels at TFC are high after several below-par seasons and not a single playoff appearance in their seven-year MLS history.

“We’ve got a great front office, great coaching staff, great players and a fantastic city. We’ve got everything here to be a major force in world football,” Caldwell said. “MLS is growing at such a rapid rate, one or two teams are going to rise from MLS and become a global brand. That’s what we want to be. As players we have to start making playoffs and winning MLS Cup’s, once that happens I believe this club can be huge.”

Going back to that opening image of Caldwell coaching in his native land, I was fortunate enough to work alongside him in a professional capacity back in November 2012 as we both completed our UEFA B coaching license in Scotland. A calm coach who knew when to step in and when to let sessions flow, Caldwell’s aura off the pitch was indicative of a leader who lets his boots and actions do the talking.

source: AP
Clint Dempsey and Seattle are Toronto’s opponents, as TFC’s much-anticipated season starts with a bang live on NBCSN this Saturday.

“We are expecting big things, but we know it’s not going to be easy,” Caldwell said of TFC’s hopes for 2014. “There are a lot of very good, established teams in this league. We’ve got a lot of new guys trying to gel, it’s going to take a little bit of time. But with the quality that we have we’re hoping for at least the playoffs and then to try and push for MLS Cup. That’s the aim.”

MLS Season Preview: Toronto FC

That task of launching a monumental turnaround in Toronto — the franchise has failed to win more than 10 MLS games in a single season since they arrived in 2007, plus have a record of 17-51-34 over the last three campaigns — is not an easy one, and Caldwell accepts that.

TFC have suddenly vaulted from a team used to propping up the standings to a favorite for the Eastern conference and MLS Cup. Without even kicking a ball in 2014. Dealing with those expectations and fostering a winning mentality at TFC, where struggles have been commonplace for most, if not all, of the teams existence, is easier said than done.

“We have got to accept that responsibility and take that pressure on,” Caldwell said. “It will come with the players we’ve signed, but we need to embrace that and enjoy the challenge of having to win every week. That’s a little bit new to Toronto Football Club. Hopefully we can rise to that challenge and be the team everybody wants to beat.”

As for Toronto’s season opener, it could hardly be tougher. A trip to CenturyLink Field is something most teams and players dread, as Seattle’s talented squad, in front of their sizable, loud home crowd, makes for a tough environment. But Caldwell is the type of character who thrives in a cauldron of animosity. And the 6-foot-3 Scotsman revealed his side are ‘champing at the bit’ to get their season underway, after being forced to watch on during opening weekend as TFC had a bye-week.

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A leader on and off the field, Caldwell has slotted in superbly at the heart of TFC’s defense.

“It is a huge game, they’re expecting a massive crowd, so it will be a very exciting game to play in,” Caldwell said. “Seattle have got some top players, they’ve brought Clint Dempsey back to MLS and are going to be a challenge. We understand it’s going to be a tough, tough game. But we are of the caliber now that we feel like we can go anywhere and achieve results. We have to be hard to beat, first and foremost, but our quality means we’re capable of winning most, if not every, game.”

That new-found star quality Caldwell speaks of comes mostly from the acquisition of Bradley, the U.S. international midfielder. Arriving from Italian giants AS Roma for $10 million in January, and reportedly paid $5.8 million a year in wages, Bradley is the focal point of TFC’s revolution. On Saturday fans across the USA and Canada will be tuning in to watch Bradley go head-to-head with USMNT colleague Dempsey, as two of MLS’ poster boys square off.

In terms of settling back into MLS with Toronto, it’s a case of so far, so good, for the “General,” according to Caldwell.

“I’ve been very, very impressed. He’s a very mature young man and a fantastic player,” Caldwell said. “Michael is a real winner, which is very exciting for us. He’s going to be a major player for this football club for many years to come. It’s a big coup for us to have such a quality player coming from a huge team like AS Roma. That fact that he chose to play for us, when he probably could’ve joined some of Europe’s best teams, is a major coup.”

Many thought with the money TFC splashed to bring Bradley to BMO Field, plus his experience in Europe and with the U.S., that he’d be taking the captain’s armband on arrival.

source: AP
Michael Bradley, right, and Jermain Defoe are two of the most expensive players in MLS history. They’ll team up to help Toronto win it all in 2014 and beyond.

But it shows the huge admiration and faith head coach Nelsen has in Caldwell. The big Scot revealed that respect is reciprocal, as he heaped praise on Nelsen’s coaching techniques and is desperate to repay the faith shown in him by his manager.

Captaining teams is not new to Caldwell. He’s been the skipper of Burnley, Birmingham City and now Toronto, which is a role Caldwell is relishing as he leads TFC into a brave new era.

But what about the future? Can Toronto really overtake the perennial MLS powerhouses?

Caldwell has been with Toronto since the start of the sides huge rebuild, and despite hiccups along the way, the progress everyone was hoping for is finally clicking into place ahead of the 2014 season.

“When I came to Toronto at the end of last May, I still felt like we were progressing a little bit. Not as quickly as we would’ve liked, but this process is a building period,” Caldwell said. “We’ve now got a structure, a nucleus and a way we want to play. The guys who’ve been kept on this season know their jobs and roles. We’ve got the base to be a very successful team, with the likes of Defoe, Bradley and Gilberto adding to that. We need to learn how to win consistently now. Once we do that, the sky is the limit for this football club.”

Man Utd see off Brighton to join Spurs in FA Cup semis

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Jose Mourinho has come under heavy scrutiny in recent days and weeks, as his Manchester United side crashed out of the Champions League this week and continue to trail runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City by 16 points, yet the Portuguese is perhaps just 180 minutes from finishing the 2017-18 with a major trophy anyway.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Swansea to reach FA Cup semis ]

Man United got the best of Brighton & Hove Albion, to the tune of 2-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday, to book their spot at Wembley Stadium in the semifinals of the FA Cup. Romelu Lukaku scored the winning goal not long before halftime, with United grinding out another laborious result with superstars Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez glued to the bench for the whole of 90 minutes.

United enjoyed a healthy 61 percent of possession in the game, but were out-shot by the 12th-place side in the PL by a sizable margin, 16-8 (4-2 on target).

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores ] 

Lukaku’s rampage through the FA Cup continued in the 37th minute, as the big Belgian striker bagged not only his 23rd goal of the season in all competitions, but his fifth of the tournament thus far and extended his record of having scored in each round to four games.

Nemanja Matic floated a cross from the let side of the box to the back post, where Lukaku had created a yard or two of space for himself. Tim Krul didn’t come out to catch it, and Lukaku headed it just under the crossbar to give the Old Trafford faithful reason to smile again.

[ PREVIEW: Who will join Spurs, United at Wembley?

It was Matic who got on the end of another back-post ball, this one from an Ashley Young free kick, in the 84th minute to put United two goals ahead and secure the club’s second FA Cup semifinals appearance in seven seasons (United enjoyed a run of five final-four appearances out of eight in the years prior).

Tottenham Hotspur, who trail United by four points in the race for second in the PL, were the first side to advance to this season’s semifinals by winning 3-0 away to Swansea City on Saturday.

Bundesliga wrap: Schalke win late to stave off chasing pack

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BERLIN (AP) Schalke needed a penalty save and a late own goal to scramble a 1-0 win at Wolfsburg and retain second place in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

Substitute Breel Embolo helped create the decider when his pass across the box was turned into his own net by Robin Knoche four minutes from time.

Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann saved Paul Verhaegh’s penalty in the 76th minute after Matija Nastasic had fouled Riechedly Bazoer.

“This is the work of our entire goalkeeping team,” Faehrmann said of his stop. “I don’t want to boast about it on my own, we’re always meticulously prepared for such situations.”

Schalke’s fifth consecutive win opened a four-point advantage over third-place Borussia Dortmund, which hosts Hannover on Sunday.

Wolfsburg is 15th.

“We played well and then missed the penalty and conceded a goal,” Knoche said. “I’m sorry for the team.”

Runaway leader Bayern Munich is 17 points clear before visiting Leipzig on Sunday.

Eintracht Frankfurt kept in the hunt for a top-four finish, and a Champions League berth, by beating Mainz 3-0.

Kevin-Prince Boateng put Eintracht in front after six minutes. Ante Rebic set up Luka Jovic for the second goal and Rebic finished off a counterattack before halftime.

Eintracht is fourth ahead of fifth-place Bayer Leverkusen’s trip to Cologne on Sunday.

Matthias Ginter netted in the 89th minute as Borussia Monchengladbach came from behind three times to draw 3-3 at home to seventh-place Hoffenheim.

Benjamin Hubner scored with a header before substitute Josip Drmic replied for Gladbach in the first half.

Andrej Kramaric converted a penalty after Jonas Hofmann had fouled Serge Gnabry to put Hoffenheim back in front. Lars Stindl then leveled before Florian Grillitsch quickly restored the visitors’ advantage.

Ninth-place Gladbach was staring at defeat until Ginter turned in Raffael’s cross at the far post to snatch a point that kept his team in the hunt for a Europa League berth.

Werder Bremen continued to climb away from danger after Algerian forward Ishak Belfodil grabbed two goals in a 3-1 win at Augsburg.

Belfodil was twice on target before halftime. Rani Khedira pulled one back for Augsburg before Max Kruse secured the points.

Werder is 12th after a fourth victory in six matches.

Hertha Berlin rallied for a 2-1 victory at relegation-haunted Hamburg.

Douglas Santos put Hamburg ahead before halftime, only for Valentino Lazaro and Salomon Kalou to turn the match around in the 56th and 63rd minutes.

Hamburg, the only club never to be relegated from the Bundesliga, is seven points from safety after 14 matches without a victory.

Morocco to spend $16B on 2026 World Cup venues, infrastructure

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Morocco says it will need to spend almost $16 billion to prepare to host the 2026 World Cup, with every proposed stadium and training ground built from scratch or renovated.

With less than three months until the FIFA vote, the north African nation on Saturday presented details of its proposal to take on the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The North American bid plans to rely on existing infrastructure, including large NFL stadiums already hosting events.

When FIFA insiders score the bids, infrastructure – of which half relates to stadiums – will account for 70 percent of the panel’s mark. The remaining 30 percent is based on projected costs and revenues. A high-risk bid can be disqualified before the FIFA Congress votes on June 13.

Morocco says for $3 billion it can build nine stadiums, refurbish five others and build or renovate 130 training grounds.

That is part of the $12.6 billion in public investment that also requires hospital services being upgraded in 20 cities and transport networks improved for the first 48-team World Cup.

The bid says another $3.2 billion of private investment is required to build hotels.

Morocco’s bid team told The Associated Press that the projections had been “carefully costed” but could not provide a breakdown on how the figures were reached.

Liverpool 5-0 Watford: Salah runs riot

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  • Salah now leads PL with 28 goals, has 36 in all competitions
  • Liverpool rise to third in PL table
  • Watford eight points above bottom three

Liverpool beat Watford 5-0 at Anfield on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s men eased to victory in the snow and are now seven points clear of fifth-place Chelsea in the table.

Mohamed Salah scored four goals to secure his first hat trick for Liverpool and he set up Roberto Firmino for Liverpool’s other goal. The Egyptian is now the leading scorer in the Premier League with 28 for the season.

With the win Liverpool cement their spot in the top four and have 63 points with seven games to go, while Watford slip to 11th but are well clear of relegation trouble and have 36 points on the board.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

It took Liverpool less than four minutes to break the deadlock as Sadio Mane found Salah in the box and the Egyptian winger did the rest.

Salah cut past multiple Watford defenders with ease before slotting home coolly for his 25th goal of the Premier League season. 1-0 to the Reds.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After that goal arrived Liverpool at back and looked dangerous with Roberto Firmino denied by an excellent stop from Karnezis after being played clean through.

Watford grew in stature as the first half wore on but then Salah popped up with his and Liverpool’s second of the game. Mane found Robertson on the left and his cross found Salah unmarked at the back post to tap home. 2-0. Too easy.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Liverpool started the second half well and Salah caused havoc as he cut inside from the right and his cross found Firmino at the near post. The Brazilian forward flicked home with his back heel to make it 3-0 and put the result beyond doubt. Another majestic Liverpool goal.

Pereyra almost got a goal back for Watford straight after going 3-0 down but his whipped free kick from the left clipped the cross bar and went over.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

For the latter stages Liverpool kept the ball and created chances when they wanted to as Salah completed his hat trick in fine fashion. The Egyptian wriggled free of four Watford players, cut back twice and slotted home to make it 4-0. Salah is on another planet.

Danny Ings came on late in the game and his shot was well-saved by Karnezis and then Ings was denied by Karnezis soon after but that man Salah was there to clean up and net his fourth of the game and make it 5-0.